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Durbin, Coburn Bill to Deny Safe Haven to War Criminals who Exploit Child Soldiers Becomes Law

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

The Child Soldiers Accountability Act (S. 2135) was signed into law by President Bush today, making it a crime to recruit or use child soldiers. The bill, introduced by US Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK), gives the federal government the authority to prosecute, deport or deny admission to an individual who recruited or used child soldiers under the age of 15. The bipartisan bill is the second piece of legislation from Durbin's and Coburn's Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law to be enacted into law.

"The United States must not be a safe haven for those who exploit children as soldiers. Period," Durbin said. "The use of children as combatants is one of the most despicable human rights violations in the world today and affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of boys and girls who are used as combatants, porters, human mine detectors and sex slaves. The power to prosecute and punish those who violate the law will send a clear signal that the U.S. will in no way tolerate this abhorrent practice."

"Children should never participate in hostilities. Yet, tragically, more than 2 million children around the world have lost their childhoods, their innocence, and ultimately their lives following forced or coerced recruitment into militaries or militias," Dr. Coburn said. "Another 6 million have suffered disabling injuries, and 250,000 children continue to be exploited today. This bill helps ensure that those who recruit or use child soldiers will not be able to seek safe haven in the United States and in the event they are found in this country, it allows us — for the first time — to punish them under U.S. criminal laws."

"I am pleased the President has signed this important bill," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). "The conduct prohibited by the Child Soldiers Accountability Act is appalling, but happens all too often throughout the world. Our country should do everything it can to stop this offense to human rights and human dignity, and this law is an important step in that direction."

Children are currently fighting as soldiers in over twenty countries. Denied a childhood and often subjected to horrific violence, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 children are serving as soldiers for both rebel groups and government forces. Physically vulnerable and easily intimidated, children typically make obedient soldiers and participate in all aspects of warfare. Many are recruited by force, and often compelled to follow orders under threat of death.

The Child Soldiers Accountability Act was cosponsored by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Sam Brownback (R-KS).

"Child soldiers in Africa and across the globe are forced to perpetrate atrocious acts while often being victimized by drug addiction, psychological manipulation, and sexual abuse," Feingold said. "Forcing children to fight robs them of their innocence, violates their basic human rights and poses a threat to the security of communities and entire countries. With passage of this legislation, which ensures that those who recruit and use child soldiers are held accountable, we renew our nation's commitment to ending the use of child soldiers."

In addition to the Child Soldiers Accountability Act, Durbin has introduced the Child Soldiers Prevention Act which would ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are not used to support governments or government sanctioned military and paramilitary organizations that use children as combatants. The bill would allow for U.S. military assistance to continue but only if the assistance is used to remedy the problem by helping countries successfully demobilize their child soldiers and professionalize their forces.

Senator Durbin became the Chairman of the first ever congressional committee dealing specifically with human rights in January 2007. That body, The Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, has jurisdiction over all human rights law and polices, including genocide, human trafficking, war crimes and torture.

The problem addressed in the Child Soldiers Accountability Act was identified during a hearing Senator Durbin chaired in April of 2007 on "Casualties of War: Child Soldiers and the Law."

It is the second bill from this subcommittee to become law this Congress. The first was the Genocide Accountability Act, which closed the legal loophole that prevented the U.S. Justice Department from prosecuting individuals in the United States who have participated in genocide in other countries.

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